‘I love this city. It’s nice to reconnect with Dublin after so long because there’s nothing like home’

HIS BEARD STILL had muck mangled within it.

His feet were heavy and his pride dented after battle.

Shelbourne captain Gary Deegan trudged across the heavy Tolka Park pitch and down the tunnel.

Champions Dundalk had just overcome a second-half rally, inspired by the Dubliner’s stunning half volley, to secure a 2-1 victory in Drumcondra.

But Deegan’s work was not done. 

An elderly Shelbourne volunteer stood at the foot of the stairs to the dressing rooms. Clutching numerous blue biros and commiserating with those in red, he ushered the beaten players into one of the side rooms to sign autographs for one of the underage teams.

Some sidestepped him, others went in straight away. Deegan had been withdrawn by manager Ian Morris with 16 minutes remaining so the sweat wasn’t quite fresh.

It had time to linger as he watched the final quarter of an hour from the bench so, frankly, Deegan stank.

He didn’t want to make the young kids endure this. The defeat, even a tight one to the champions, was still raw. Deegan promised the Shels volunteer he would return after a shower.

He took a biro and, not long afterwards, was true to his word; signing autographs and posing for photographs.

“We’ve got a good dressing room, there are no egos flying around,” Deegan told The42. “No [bad] eggs in the dressing room. We wouldn’t allow that to creep into the changing room. We’ve got young, honest, hardworking lads with a blend of experienced pros as well. It’s our job to bring the young pups on a little.

The 32-year-old has his own good reasons for feeling like this is a fresh start.

He left Bohemians for Coventry City in 2009 and, after more than a decade in Britain with Hibernian, Northampton Town, Southend United, Shrewsbury Town and Cambridge United, took the decision to move back to Dublin with his young family.

As well as the usual hazards of the midfield trade you might expect, broken bones and limbs, Deegan has also had to endure off-field obstacles.

He was suspended by Coventry City for a tweet in which he joked with a team-mate about supporting the IRA. While a Hibs player, he was attacked a night out and suffered a fractured jaw, and he admitted his “life could have been taken away” after contracting sepsis last year. 

“Look, I love this city,” Deegan insists. “It’s nice to reconnect after so long. There is nothing like home. I’m a father now to two young girls, they were both born away. Now we’re back and back as a family. We get our heads down now and be part of the Shelbourne family.”

Shels manager Ian Morris.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Morris, his manager, turns 33 on Thursday and even though he is only seven months his senior, Deegan has been impressed by his boss’ approach.  

“He sets a standard, instills a work ethic. There is very clear messaging, it’s short and to the point. That’s what you want.

“There are no grey areas. No in between. Yo do your job, you do what’s asked of you. Roles and responsibilities, we talk about it all the time. Yeah, the champions came here and showed why they are champions.

Shels had a chance to put Friday’s defeat to Dundalk behind them until snow led to their game away to Finn Harps on Monday being postponed. Friday’s opponents, St Patrick’s Athletic, also saw their meeting at home to Derry City fall foul of the weather.

It means both will have a full week to prepare for another night under the Tolka Park lights, with Deegan eager that they learn quickly having given two goals away to Dundalk on set-pieces.

“It’s good for the young lads to, I’m not going to say ‘make mistakes’, but they need to learn. You’re playing in the Premier and you get punished for mistakes. There is no time to dwell on things in this league.

“It’s been good. I think the lads have taken to me. I’m enjoying my time. The lads are buying into what we’re trying to do here.

Deegan hopes to lead by example at Tolka Park.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s a young group. We all want to stride forward, we want to improve. We all want to get into the starting XI because nothing is a gimme here. That’s what the manager has instilled here, there’s a good work ethic and nothing is guaranteed here.”

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Deegan doesn’t care for personal glory, either. His return to the League of Ireland is certainly no ego trip and, despite scoring a stunning goal last week, it means nothing unless the three points – or one, if needed – come with it.

“No. Get something out of the game. Forget about goals. That’s not my job to do that. Leave that up to Killer [Ciaran Kilduff], Jaze [Kabia], Farreller [Shane Farrell], all these type of people who I see on a regular basis who can finish.”

The gauntlet has been thrown down.

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